Tuesday, February 22, 2011

U.S. Banks -- What Gives??

As (I would hope) most of you know, back in August of 2010, banks were finally required to have customers "Opt-In" to their generous overdraft protection programs. This doesn't really come as a shock to me, as banks made over $38 billion in overdraft fees in 2009.

What does come as a shock to me are the crazy fees that they are coming up with in an effort to recoup some of those lost fees. One of Bank of America's fun new fees, the "heaven forbid you have to talk to a real teller" fee costs you $8.95 EVERY TIME you decide to interact with a person! Another fee, more specifically the fee that inspired me to post a blog entry on the subject, is by my second favorite bank, TD Bank. Yesterday I received a letter in the mail from TD Bank, informing me of the following "Important Information" regarding my checking account:
"Beginning March 9, 2011, when you use your TD Bank [debit card] to get cash at a non-TD Bank ATM, your account may be subject to ATM transaction fees from TD Bank and from the financial services provider who owns the ATM."

Really? So TD Bank... Does it really cost you $2 to process my ATM withdrawal from some other bank's ATM? Where are we headed with these fees? I guess the days of the "free" checking account, sign on bonuses and reasonable fees are a thing of the past. Too bad. I really liked those days.

I'm Back!!!

So... I haven't really posted to my blog recently.. And I've had more and more of those "aha!" moments where I realized, "this would be a perfect thing to blog about!". So here I am.. I'll try and start posting those thoughts out here.. Whether they'll be read? Who knows. ;)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Scenic Trip to Kuranda

Wednesday, Dec 16

We woke up around 7:45 today, had some cereal for breakfast, then headed out for our bus pickup to Kuranda. It was a little rainy and very cloudy, but we didn't care. We weren't too sure what to think about the whole trip that lay ahead of us, but I knew that I was REALLY looking forward to the Kuranda Scenic Railway trip that would bring us back down the mountain into Cairns. Our first leg of the trip, up to Kuranda, was via a gondola ride, "SkyRail", over the rainforest. The gondola made two stops along the way, each offering a walk through the rainforest! Dave and I both couldn't stop talking about the amazing views offered and the experience of walking IN the rainforest. The temperature and climate within was so completely different than that of Cairns below. The whole experience was amazing, and I hope you all can experience something like it!

After about an hour and a half, we made our way into Kuranda. It was a quaint little village, looked like maybe 200 people lived there, and consisted of one main street that was lined with shops. Although it has turned into a tourist trap, it was still very interesting. We made our way down to the end of the main street to find Koala Gardens, a small zoo that had koalas, kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, fresh water crocs and some reptiles. Dave got a picture of himself holding Chibby the koala and I got to pet her too. She was very cute and very soft. We then moved on and fed some very lathargic kangaroos, probably because of all the grain that everyone was feeding them..

Since it was a little after lunch, we grabbed a quick bite to eat in a neat little restaurant with a porch that overlooked the rainforest, then headed to the historic Kuranda Rail Station for our train ride back down to Cairns through the Barron Gorge!

The train ride was spectacular. It crossed in front of waterfalls, passed along cliffs and went through 15 tunnels on the trip down from the village through the rainforest. It also poured on and off the whole trip down. At one point, one of the conductors on the train came by and laughed and said "Well, I guess we're in the rainy season".

Once back in Cairns, we headed to the Didjeridoo shop where Dave, after another 20 minutes of looking around in the shop, finally picked out his didjeridoo and bought it. We then went and grabbed some pizza, and watched as it poured the hardest I think I've ever seen. It sure did seem like we'd hit the rainy season in the north!

When we got back to the hostel, we began packing our bags and getting ready for our early departure tomorrow morning, when we're off to Sydney!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Great Barrier Reef

Tuesday, Dec 15

We woke up bright and early today to get ready to head out for the reef. We ate some cereal, then headed to the Reef Terminal to check in. The crew on the "Passions of Paradise" catamaran were all very nice. All together, there were about 90 of us onboard (including the crew) ready for the 2 hour sail out to Michaelmas Cay, where we were to jump in for our first dive on the reef.

When we arrived, we were surrounded by tropical light blue water spotted with dark blue patches, which of course was the reef. We hopped in the water and began exploring. I don't think 20 minutes had passed before Dave spotted a turtle. It was amazing swimming around the turtle, taking pictures, and just watching him. At one point, he even began to chew on some coral. It was out of this world.

There were all sorts of tropical fish. Some would swim around us, some would swim away, others were swimming in and out of coral, others were gnawing away at it. It was amazing to be in the midst of all that activity, and the whole time, the fish didn't seem to mind two big things swimming amongst them.

I should mention that we ended up renting, or as the Aussies say, "hiring", an underwater digital camera, so we were able to take over 200 pictures! I'll add some of the pics after I get home, as they're on a CD and I can't post them.. :(

Passions of Paradise has its own mooring at a remote part of the reef, which we headed to next. This was spectacular, because unlike Michaelmas Cay, which was like an island with shallow water all around, "Paradise" reef was free standing and therefore had the steep drop offs of coral as far as the eye could see (about 75 feet of visibility). Dave was even able to take a cool picture of some clownfish!

All in all, we were able to spend about 3 hours snorkeling amongst the reef, of which all three were awesome. This is definitely an experience that I will remember for a long time! The trip back was about 2 hours. There was a bar on board, so we all had some drinks and relaxed in the strong Australian sun. Once back in Cairns, we made our way to the camera shop to return the underwater digital camera and get our pictures. They were amazing, and I can't wait to show them to everyone!

For dinner, we found Outback Jack's, that offered an appetizer of crocodile AND kangaroo, the two meats that I wanted to try. The croc tasted a lot like chicken (I hope that's not too cliche!) except with a bit of a fishy aftertaste, and the kangaroo tasted a lot like beef. However, I'm glad to say that I prefer regular beef and regular chicken to both of these!

We stopped into an internet cafe and posted some pictures on the way home as well as shopping around for a didjeridoo (Dave really wants one). We then made our back to the hostel around 9pm. We decided to take a trip up to a village set up in the mountains called Kuranda tomorrow, so we booked that at the front desk (did I mention that our hostel was a full fledged travel agency??), then headed to bed.

What a day!!!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Sydney to Cairns

Monday, Dec 14

We woke up bright and early (4AM!) on today in order to shower, pack and get downstairs for the airport shuttle to take us to the airport to catch our 6:25 flight to Cairns. When we got there however, we found ourselves in the middle of a HUGE mess, as our airline was having major computer problems and was resorting to manual checkin for ALL flights! We didn't think it would be that bad... until we found ourselves still waiting in line to checkin, barely having moved 10 feet, by 6:15... Finally at around 6:20, their computers came back online, and the lines began moving smoothly.. We were only delayed about an hour and a half.. Good thing we didn't have any fixed plans in Cairns!

After an uneventful flight, we landed in Cairns around 9:30 and caught a shuttle to our hostel. We weren't too sure what to expect, so we were blown away by the very cool atmosphere, the beautiful pool, and the plethora of rooms it had to offer. I would definitely have to say that this is one of the best hostels that I've ever stayed in! Not too mention, it's about $25 per person per night which really can't be beat! After checking in, we immediately booked a trip out to the Great Barrier Reef for the next day, then changed into our bathing suits, and headed for the beach.. Only to find that there is NO BEACH in Cairns!

Turns out, they have this amazing public pool instead, right on the ocean, that is designed to look like a beach, with sand and a horizon that lines up with the ocean! We spent our afternoon there, soaking in some of the Aussie rays! At first we found it shocking that such a town wouldn't utilize it's true beaches, but later we found out that due to the Irukandji (sp??) and other jelly fish as well as the supposed presence of crocodiles, NOBODY swims at the beaches.

After grabbing our "free" hostel dinner that consisted of a plate of spaghetti with a teaspoon of sauce, we headed back to the hostel, and passed out nice and early!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Getting to Oz...

Friday Dec 11th to Sunday Dec 13th

Our flight down under was unbelievably long! After a long 6 and a half hour flight to Los Angelos, we hopped on our even longer flight to Sydney. The Sydney flight ended up taking over 15 hours, which is by far the LONGEST flight I've ever been on. But I made good use of my time, catching up on recent new movie releases, and getting about 8 hours of on and off sleep, despite the one small child who was adamant about making ear splitting shrieks everytime I had fallen into a comfortable sleep. When we could finally see land, we saw the shining beautiful coast of Sydney. And as we flew over downtown Sydney, we saw a beautiful view of the Sydney Opera House, the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the downtown financial district. It was absolutely amazing!

After touching down, we picked up an Aussie sim card for my phone and made our way to the hotel, which was conveniently close to the airport. So, after over 28 hours since leaving Niantic, we decided it was time freshen up, and make our way into downtown Sydney! It was about 90 degrees out, so shorts and t-shirts were definitely in order... too bad we forgot about the sunscreen!

We hopped on a local train and made it into downtown in about 15 minutes. Downtown Sydney was gorgeous! Much different than New York. The streets were clean and lined with beautiful trees. There was a monorail that weaved up and down the streets, and it was quite hilly, very much like San Francisco!

The front desk guy at the hotel had told us where we should head for some nice places to grab a bite, so we made our way over to Darling Harbour. It was beautifully done up, including a Christmas tree, which definitely looked out of place in the beautiful summer weather! After ordering some fairly over-priced burgers, we made our way through downtown Sydney, ending up in the Royal Botanical Gardens, and finally at the Opera House! We snapped some pictures, then headed around to Circular Quay (pronounced "Key") and finally to the foot of the Sydney Harbour Bridge!

We explored a ton of the small side streets from there, and finally made our way into a train station to head back to the hotel. Not a moment too soon, I might add, as we hadn't been back long enough to order some pizza before I was passed out! The pizza, came, we chowed down, and passed out.. at 8pm! I guess jet lag had finally hit!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Hello Athens, Day 17

I was able to sleep about 2 hours during the flight to Athens (it was only 3 hours long) which would serve as my night's sleep.. :( When I arrived in Athens and finished getting my bag, it was about 4am and I had 5 hours before Dr. Hoch would arrive on her flight. I was starving, so I found a food place that was open and sold the most amazing tasting sandwiches! They were called Capri sandwiches and consisted of ham, cheese, basil and tomato on thin panini bread... SO GOOD! I ended up having a second one I liked it so much! The rest of the time I spent writing some of my blog entries and organizing my photos I'd taken thus far on the trip.
Finally around 9:20, Dr. Hoch walked through the arrivals gate! Now it will be important to note that from this point on, the trip has been organized by a small little Greek travel agency.. Boy were we in for a treat!
We looked around and found our chauffer (yes, we had a chauffer waiting for us!) who drove us the approximate hour ride into the heart of Athens to our beautiful "Central Hotel". We weren't aware of it when we first arrived, but our hotel had an AWESOME rooftop view of the Acropolis!
First thing we did though was take a nap... a 5 hour nap! I was recovering from an approximate 18 hour trip from southern Spain to Athens, while Dr. Hoch was recovering from her 24 hour trip across the Atlantic!
After our nap, we walked around the small city streets for a while, mainly stealing awesome views of the Acropolis high above us, and looking for a place to grab dinner. Dr. Hoch finally found a small tourist trap that intrigued her by their "comfy" chairs. Needless to say, in my opinion, the food was not so good.. But she was persistant about the chairs! So we ate a dinner consisting of greek salad and some sort of grinder. Afterwards, we meandered around the streets a bit longer, then headed back to the hotel for an early to bed.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Traveling - Jaen -> Madrid -> Athens, Greece, Day 16

I finally woke up around 1:15 after about 5 and a half hours of sleep, and began to pack and had some breakfast. Finally around 2:45, I woke up Jenna who was still recovering. We said our goodbyes and then I was off. I walked down to the train station and caught the 4 hour train back to Madrid. Once back in Madrid, I found my way to the airport and before I knew it, was waiting past security for my flight.. 3 hours to go.. :(
So, I wandered through duty free looking for my "Black Vodka" that I'd been searching for throughout Spain. They didn't have the black that I was looking for, but they did have a red vodka that looked like it might be similar, so I grabbed a bottle of that! :)
I used some internet while I waited to check up on email and to jot down all the addresses of people I needed to send postcards to while in Greece. I ended up copying down 23 addresses, and that doesn't include addresses that I have memorized, like family members and a few close friends!! I had a lot of postcard writing ahead of me! We finally boarded our flight, and to my surprise, the plane was less than a quarter full! I had my whole row to myself, so I immediately sprawled out and passed out! Next stop, Greece!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Partying like rockstars - :) - Day 15

Again, I slept in quite late while Jenna got up at the crack of dawn to go to work. When I finally got myself out of bed, I headed out to try and get tickets to the Alhambra for later that day. But again, there was no luck. So when Jenna came home from school with the news that a friend of hers would be at the Feria later that night, we both forgot about the Alhambra. It's been around for hundreds of years.. what's another few?? So we took a nap when she got back from work, then went out to buy my train ticket back to Madrid for the next day and to visit an Arab restaurant for tea and crepes. These crepes were the most amazing tasting crepes I've ever tasted! They also had amazing milkshakes!
We then headed back to the apartment to make dinner, and start prepping for Feria. Tonight was especially important, as it was the last night of Feria AND because Jenna finally didn't have to work the next day!
Needless to say, we had an absolute blast at Feria, met up with Jenna's friend, and partied like rockstars until 6:30am! It was quite the final night in Spain!! :)

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Jaen - For real this time! - Day 14

I woke up on around 1pm today... A bit of recovery was needed, not only from the night before, but also Santander and Germany! I was still trying to get over a cold I had caught in Germany!
Jenna got home around 2:30, and we decided to go up to the castle. Now I called this entry "Jaen - For real this time!" because last year (and it was almost 1 year exactly!) when I came to visit Jaen, we didn't make it to anything in the city that is really notable and worth seeing, such as the castle and cathedral! So we took a cab up to the top of the hill where the castle sits and enjoyed some really beautiful views of Jaen, the surrounding mountains, and neighboring pueblos. On the way back down from the castle, we stopped at the cathedral which was also very beautiful. We then walked back to the piso and took a nap for a little while.
We then looked for a travel agency to try and book a ticket for me for the Alhambra for the next day in Granada, but failed. So we decided to try for my last day at the Alhambra, and moved our priorities onto drinks for the night. We bought some drinks for the Feria and headed home for dinner. Dinner had an extreme likeness to last year's dinners... pasta and sauce. Total cost for two: about a euro!! While we were eating, we got a chance to talk with Victoria, Jenna's roommate, about her trip to the states and saw her photo albums. She went to odd places, like I find many tourists do.. St Louis and Missouri?? Anyways.. After dinner, it was off to night 2 at the feria. As we made our way through the crowds, we ran into the same friends that we were with the night before, and danced all night with them. Again, we stayed out until about 2ish! Keep in mind, Jenna had to work the next day around 9am each day! What a champ!
Oh, and don't forget the half an hour, uphill walk back to her apartment!